The U.N. human rights office on Friday regretted the impact that U.S. sanctions authorised by President Donald Trump may have on trials and investigations under way at the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying its independence must be protected.
"The independence of the ICC and its ability to operate without interference must be guaranteed so that it can decide matters without any improper influence, inducement, pressures, threats or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reasons," U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. "Victims of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law and their families have the right to redress and the truth."
The International Criminal Court also condemned the Trump administration’s decision to authorise sanctions against court staff, saying it amounted to “an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings.”
An executive order by U.S. President Donald Trump announced Thursday authorizes sanctions against ICC staff investigating American troops and intelligence officials and those of allied nations, including Israel, for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Trump’s order would block the financial assets of court employees and bar them and their immediate relatives from entering the United States.
The court, which has 123 member states, said in a statement released early Friday that it “stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate” laid down in its founding treaty, the Rome Statute.
It said an attack on the Hague-based court also constitutes “an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice.”
O-Gon Kwon, president of the court’s management and oversight mechanism, the Assembly of States Parties, also criticized the U.S. measures.
“They undermine our common endeavor to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities,” he said in a statement. “I deeply regret measures targeting Court officials, staff and their families.”
The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide in places where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. The U.S. has never been an ICC member.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday denounced the tribunal as a “kangaroo court” that has been unsuccessful and inefficient in prosecuting war crimes. He said that the U.S. would punish the ICC employees for any investigation or prosecution of Americans in Afghanistan and added that they could also be banned for prosecuting Israelis for alleged abuses against Palestinians.
“It gives us no joy to punish them,” Pompeo said. “But we cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop and travel and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms.”
Last year, Pompeo revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, after she asked ICC judges to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The judges initially rejected the request, she appealed and the the court authorized the investigation in March.
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a tweet Friday he was “very disturbed by the United States’ measures” and called on Washington not to sanction ICC staff.
“The ICC is crucial in the fight against impunity and in upholding international rule of law,” Blok tweeted.
Senior U.N. and EU officials also spoke out against the decision.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Trump’s order “is a matter of serious concern” and he described EU members as “steadfast supporters” of the tribunal.” Borrell said “it is a key factor in bringing justice and peace,” and that “it must be respected and supported by all nations.”
The United Nations has “taken note with concern” about reports of Trump’s order, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The American Civil Liberties Union suggested it might seek legal recourse and said the order was “a dangerous display of his contempt for human rights and those working to uphold them.”
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, backed the U.S. action, accusing the court of fabricating “outlandish charges” against his country, and praising the U.S. for standing up for what he called truth and justice.